Were you even in lockdown if you didn’t binge watch the telly? These are the TV shows I watched and personally recommend…
There is no doubt we all watched a lot of TV (Netflix, NOW TV, AppleTV, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video… am I missing any?) during lockdown. I mean after your daily walk, homeschooling, a whole lot of baking/gardening/reading – what else was there to do? (OK – yes I do have that massive pile of laundry to sort but, I’ll do that tomorrow!).
I have to say I watch quite a lot of TV Shows and box sets anyway – so, all lockdown did for me was mean I could finally watch those ones backing up on my ‘to-watch-someday-list’ – as I like to watch them in order, I’m not someone who likes to dip in and out or watch random series out of order!
Now, I know we are easing out of lockdown and into dare I say the ‘new normal’ and maybe not watching as much TV (who even are you?) but, I thought I would give you a list of the TV shows my husband and I watched – and, which to binge first and which ones to maybe save for another day (or lockdown – joke!).
So, in no particular order or even the order we watched them here’s my TV shows guide and viewing ratings out of 5* with 5 being must-watch and 1 being must get out more.
WATCH: The Golden Girls (1985-1992 / 7 series)
WHERE: Channel 5 and You Tube
WHY: If you like classic 1980’s sitcoms and for the nostalgia
I have already mentioned – here in my get the Golden Girls interiors style post – that I have been re-watching The Golden Girls since they’ve been re-showing it every lunchtime on Channel 5. Unfortunately, they only had the rights up to series 4 so I’ve had to watch the rest on You Tube – not the same but, I wanted to re-watch the wholes series, as many I don’t remember from when I watched back in the day with my mum.
Yes – some episodes haven’t dated so well. But, watch for the great writing (and, it really was), laugh-out-loud one liners and quotable quips, the fashion and interiors (seriously it’s amazing and so now) and enjoy a part of TV history. I mean I really thought when I got ‘older’ I would be living with my mates – it sure beats a retirement home. “Shady Pines, ma”
The Golden Girls Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: Little Fires Everywhere (2020 / limited series)
WHERE: Amazon Prime Video
WHY: Because Reese Witherspoon rarely stars in a dud
A little slow to start – this 8-part adaption of Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel – pits Witherspoon against Kerry Washington – and, Washington against Reese as their intertwined lives unravel around them. A rollercoaster of a show that quickly heats up (so stick with it) – as you go from liking/disliking/agreeing/disagreeing with both the main leads life choices, mothering style and points of view. A smart – and timely show that really makes you think and will stay with you for days after you watched especially, the brilliant last 3 episodes.
Little Fires Everywhere Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: Dark (2017-2020 / 3 series)
WHY: This is how sci-fi/mystery should be done!
The style of show is very much my husbands domain. Having been scarred for life by loyally watching all 10 seasons of Lost I tend to give sci-fi a wide-birth. But, we had just watched Stranger Things and the OA so was willing to give it a whirl back in 2017. We had a bit of a wait from watching series 1 until series 2 came out in 2019. But, if you choose to watch it now you can see all 3 series back-to-back, which is what I suggest. Why? Because this isn’t an easy watch – as in you need to concentrate – a lot happens in a episode. The show is German made but the English dubbing is beyond excellent (possibly best I have ever watched) because bad dubbing can make me switch off in an instant.
Watch all 26 episodes and you will be rewarded with a twisty, deeply written and thought provoking series about time travel. Dark follows four families in the small German town of Winden in the aftermath of a boys disappearance as the secrets, lies and family connections unravel. Visually it’s stunning, the music is perfection (love the theme music) and, you will be blown away by how much the young/older versions of themselves as are so alike – in fact it’s a little unnerving!
Dark Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: The Fall (2013-2016 / 3 series)
WHY: If you like good crime stories
We missed The Fall the first time round – not sure why. And, then it just became one of those shows ‘on my must watch list.’ Well I pretty glad we caught up with this slick crime drama. Mostly for Gillian Anderson – who besides her wardrobe of stylish silk blouses, pencil skirts and killer heels – was amazing. I hope she returns as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson. The Fall is set in Northern Ireland and centres on Paul Spector (payed by Jamie Dornan, pre – 50 shades..) as a supposedly normally functioning person who has a dark secret and even darker past. Series 1 and 2 were especially good, 3 not so good but I do like a series that ties up all the loose ends. Now, just awaiting Stella’s return to TV.
The Fall Star Rating: * * * *
WATCH: Ozark (2017 – ongoing / 3 series)
WHY: For a dark anti-hero storyline with amazing views
Money laundering , drug cartels, family drama and a less glossy America – Ozark is possible one of the smartest shows I have watched in a long time. Series 3 appeared during lockdown and we watched it in record time. The final episode was, lets just say, amazing! Apparently, the next season will be its last so catch this now before too many spoilers. It centres on Martin “Marty” Byrde (played by Jason Bateman) and his wife Wendy – played by the always brilliant Laura Linney (Tales of the City, The Big C) and their kids as they relocate to the Lake of the Ozarks region of central Missouri. If the dark comedy-drama doesn’t hook you (and, it will) the views of the lake, their amazing home and the ‘locals’ especially, Ruth Langmore will.
Ozark Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: The Nest (2020 / 5 episodes)
WHERE: BBC iPlayer
WHY: For a quick drama with amazing views of Scotland
If ever a show came at the perfect time it was The Nest released the day after lockdown was announced I think it was one of the first things we watched. I had high hopes for this – as it starred Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders) and Martin Compston (Line of Duty) as a married couple unable to conceive and the chance meeting with an 18-year-old who offers to be their surrogate mother. Look it was watchable, kept your interest but really was quite forgettable. The house it was shot in however wasn’t – it was stunning and is actually a holiday rental house on the shore of Scotland’s Loch Long, called Cape Cove.
The Nest Star Rating: * * *
WATCH: Gangs of London (2020 / 9 episodes)
WHERE: Sky Atlantic / NOW TV
WHY: If you like family crime dramas
The title says it all. A British crime drama that tells the story of the ‘gangs’ that control the capital. I wasn’t too fussed on watching this – even though I love a gangster story (I prefer American-Italian retro style ones) I watched all 9 episodes and didn’t really care much for the cold characters or luke-warm plot. I felt Joe Cole was too young to pull off this role as the new ‘head’ of the most powerful crime family in London. It was style over substance, and very brutal for brutal’s sake in scenes. Stick to Peaky Blinders.
Gangs of London Star Rating: * *
WATCH: Happy Valley (2014-2016 / 2 series)
WHY: If you like realistic British drama
Happy Valley was another series that passed us by. I’m not sure why I guess around the time it came out I had a young baby and never seemed to sit and watch TV for long. Anyway, if you too missed Happy Valley – stop what you are doing and watch immediately. We watched the two series back to back – and are *hoping* there will be another series one day. It’s that good.
Set in West Yorkshire it centres Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) a strong-willed, no nonsense police sergeant and her sister Claire (Siobhan Finneran) and the ‘mess’ that is their lives. Essentially a gritty, no frills police drama (“Happy Valley” is what local police in the area call it because of its drug problem) it’s the family details and strong storylines that will have you hooked. Sarah Lancashire is a true gem of British TV – she is simply amazing in this role.
Happy Valley Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: Hollywood (2020 / mini-series)
WHY: If you like Ryan Murphy and his highly stylised offerings
I think you either love or hate Ryan Murphy shows. I love them and yes they are vapid but, hell are they watchable. It had me at Hollywood. I am obsessed with the golden days of La La Land anyway, so this was like one long, glittering show reel. A fascinating blend of fact (or, at least stories based on factual characters) and fiction, this mini-series was slated by critics but I enjoyed it with the same shallow tone it presented. Littered with guest stars, it was watchable for great sets, amazing costumes and the ups and downs of aspiring young actors chasing the American Dream.
Hollywood Star Rating: * * *
WATCH: Dead to Me (2019 – ongoing / 2 series)
WHY: If you love dark comedy in bite size 30 minutes chunks
On paper a series about two grieving women who bond during therapy doesn’t sound like much fun. But, when you see it stars Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini you know your in for a treat. Really it’s a comedy about friendship, family and forgiveness – in the darkest, weirdest and most outrageous form maybe! Just watch the first episode and you will be hooked by the cliffhanger ending. I couldn’t wait for series 2 to start during lockdown and I think I watched it all over 3 evenings. The 3rd season is going to be the last but don’t let that put you off. It’s 3 series of pure dark, comedy joy.
Dead to Me Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: Save Me / Save Me Too (2018 – 2020 / 2 series)
WHERE: Sky Atlantic / NOW TV
WHY: Gritty London drama
I admit I had never heard of this series and with the release of the 2nd series during lockdown we figured we would go back and watch the first. And, I’m pretty glad we did. Lenny James wrote, created and starred in this drama about Nelson “Nelly” Rowe, a down-and-out whose life is turned upside down when Jody, the estranged daughter he fathered thirteen years ago, mysteriously disappears. Besides the most famous yellow coat on TV (minus Dark) Save Me explores loyalty, friendships and just how far you will go for your children. If nothing else it’s realistic characters living on an estate in London are so well rounded you get easily drawn to them. I admit series 2 wasn’t as compelling as the first series but, it continued and tied up the story neatly.
Save Me Star Rating: * * * *
WATCH: The Stranger (2020 / limited series)
WHY: If you like twisty who-done-it dramas
The Stranger is an eight-part British mystery thriller series based on the 2015 Harlan Coben novel. The premise is that a mysterious ‘stranger’ – a 20-something women in a baseball cap who tells a man a secret that has a devastating impact on his seemingly perfect life and family. I’d say if you watched the trailer that is actually more thrilling than the series. It was OK, it was watchable, the plot was good, the twist and red herrings were continuous and the ending wasn’t perfect. But, hey it’s over and done in 8 episodes. And, we were in total lockdown at this point.
The Stranger Star Rating: * *
WATCH: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (2020 / documentary)
WHY: Because over 35 million other watched it
Were you even in lockdown if you didn’t watch Tiger King? An American true crime miniseries about the life of G.W. Zoo zookeeper Joe Exotic and his ongoing feud with leopard clad Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue. It’s outrageous, unbelievable and shocking but, you literally can’t take your eyes off it. I was deeply saddened by much of the animal cruelty but it’s an interesting view into the interconnected society of big cat conservationists and collectors – who knew? Watch in horror and then watch the one-off special, hosted by Joel McHale who interviews several of the stars about Exotic and the aftermath of the series itself. Definitely, a conversation starter.
Tiger King Star Rating: * * * *
WATCH: The Crown (2016 – on going / 3 series)
WHY: For a stylish history lesson of the British Royal family
I caught up with The Crown during lockdown. It one of those shows that I am desperate to watch but don’t want to rush it. It’s truly special. Especially if you adore a historical drama. I do in this case mainly because it centres the reign of Queen Elizabeth II – who I adore. Yes, there I said it I love the Queen. I think because she will highly likely be the only female monarch I will be alive to witness. What is compelling is the new actors cast each 2 seasons to play the main roles – all the cream of British acting, which makes it all the more special. The sets are lavish, the cinematography is breathtaking and the costumes are stunning. I try really hard not to google throughout each episode of the events unfolding to check facts, figures, conversations and pictures – but, this is British history/drama at its very, very best.
The Crown Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: The Secrets She Keeps (2020 / limited series)
WHERE: BBC iPlayer
WHY: To see Lady Edith Crawley play crazy
I do like a short series (in this case six-parts) and all the better if a psychological thriller drama that you can watch, enjoy and move on. The Secrets She Keeps is about two women from vastly different backgrounds with yes, you guessed it – explosive secrets that could destroy everything around them. It was refreshing to watch something set in Sydney – as everything we had been watching during lockdown was UK based it seemed and was for the most part watchable and intriguing. It wasn’t ground breaking storytelling, the shiny haired ‘mummy blogger/influencer’/greasy haired ‘shop worker’ divide was a tad annoying and the plot holes were distracting. But, hey its 6 hours of your life and when you’ve watched everything else…
The Secrets She Keeps Star Rating: * *
WATCH: Normal People (2020 / 12 episodes)
WHERE: BBC 3 on iPlayer
WHY: For a tender and slow story on first love
YES. Normal People is a story about teenage love but don’t you dare let that put you off. This compelling, beautifully shot and touching story about the complex friendship and relationship between two teenagers. It’s based on the 2018 novel by Irish author Sally Rooney – which I haven’t read. It was a must-watch through the first phase of lockdown I devoured the 30 minute episodes over a few late nights (after my husband went to bed) – and literally wanted to watch it all over again once it has finished. The build up to Normal People was huge – I had read many interviews with the main stars, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in Grazia, the Sunday supplements and so forth – before I finally watched what became another ‘lockdown watch’.
Set in Ireland this 12-part series brings us slowly into the lives of Marianne Sheridan (Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Mescal) as they navigate the final days of secondary school to their undergraduate years in Trinity College in Dublin. As the pair grow up and weave in and out of each other’s lives across the world, they develop an intense bond that brings to light the all those adolescent insecurities and fears – and discovering who there really are – that untimely pulls them together and apart.
There will be scenes where you will want to shout as the screen demanding they tell each other what is actually happening or reveal the truth but, Normal People will stay with you long after the ending (which I kinda feel needs a follow-up series to find out whats next for M&C!).
P.S. Don’t get too distracted by Marianne’s fringe (@mariannesbangs) ….
Normal People Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: The Sinner 3 (2017 – ongoing / 3 series)
WHY: If you like a good solid and gripping storyline
When The Sinner first aired it appeared to be a one-off series starting Bill Pullman and Jessica Biel in a standard crime drama mystery. This first series is an especially good story and, you will be drawn to Detective Harry Ambrose (Pullman) who deeply investigates crimes committed by unlikely culprits. It’s his attempts to uncover the culprits’ motivations that make this a watchable and clever show. It’s since been developed in an anthology series (with Pullman being the only returning character and each as a standalone series and story). Series 2 which aired in 2018 was interesting and watchable, if not as good as the first season. It cemented the show as one to watch.
But, it was series 3 that we watched during lockdown about a fatal car accident in Upstate New York which uncovers a much larger and disturbing case behind it. It was a very deep and thought-provoking storyline – I have to say I liked it while I was watching it but, nw on reviewing is somewhat forgettable. Although, saying that I will watch series 4 which has apparently has been commissioned.
The Sinner 3 Star Rating: * * *
WATCH: After Life 2 (2019 – ongoing / 2 series)
WHY: If you like dark comedy
Created, written, produced and directed by Ricky Gervais, who is also the star, After Life follows Tony, whose life is turned upside down after his wife dies from breast cancer. Not sounding too cheerful is it? But, watch for a dark, humorous, sarcastic, raw and touching look at love, loss, hope and moving on. You will get sucked into Tony’s (after) life along with his unusual friends and work colleagues, flashbacks and be cheering him all the way along. Series 2 did use the C-word (and I’m not talking cancer here) a little too much for my liking but there was one scene (at a yoga lesson) that made me literally cry with laughter #ifyouknowyouknow and all that. It was a human observation at its best!
After Life 2 Star Rating: * * * *
WATCH: RUN (2020 / limited series)
WHY: If you are a fan of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and off-the-wall shows
This series would have past me by if I hadn’t read an interview with the writer and its link to Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag). RUN read with such promise:
“Ruby Richardson walks away from her ordinary life in the suburbs to revisit her past with her college boyfriend, Billy Johnson. The two made a pact 17 years earlier: If either one of them texted the word “RUN” and the other replied with the same, they would drop everything and meet in Grand Central Terminal and travel across America together.”
It started OK, the first episode was good but, it quickly ran out of steam, humour and story. I watched to the end – as I like to complete a series – but, was not as good as I hoped. Shame as I love Merritt Wever (watch her in Unbelievable instead).
RUN Star Rating: *
WATCH: Succession (2018 – ongoing / 2 series)
WHERE: NOW TV
WHY: For an insight into a ‘Murdoch-esque’ media empire that flips between dark comedy and drama
What’s high stakes business without scheming, back-stabbing and power struggles? Succession has it all and then some. This multi-award nominated satirical series centres on the powerful New York Roy family. Ageing patriarch Logan Roy controls one of the biggest media companies and, its his decision to take a step back from the family business that has his children competing to take his place at the top.
It was a friend of mine that persueded me to watch this. If she hadn’t I may have given up after the first few episodes. But, I will say what she said. Stick with it! Honestly the first few episodes are annoying, the characters beyond hideous, the dialogue is long and the camera work is shaky. It watched like a bad behind-the-scenes documentary will people you could care less about. BUT, get to maybe episode 4 or 5 and its changes pace. Almost like a new producer/director came in and sorted it all out. The filming was slicker, the characters no less likeable but more polished and the story more clear. It moves fast and there is some dark (game of ‘boar on the floor’ anyone?), funny and insightful moments in the rich, elitist and ‘above the law’ corporations.
NOTE: I loathed Kieran Culkins’ character at first but he quickly (and I mean after the shake up) become one of the ones I enjoyed watching the most. Roll on Series 3
Succession Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: Sweet Magnolias (2020 – ongoing / 1 series)
WHY: To keep you going until Christmas24 channels starts..
If you read the line above then you can pretty much guess what this series will be like. While not Christmas themed it’s in the same vain as those cheesy Hallmark movies and what makes Sweet Magnolias (sadly) just my cup of tea. Sweet Magnolias follows three South Carolina women: Maddie, Helen and Dana-Sue who have been best friends since childhood who meet for weekly ‘pour it out’ Margarita and family/career/love advice sessions as they set about opening a women’s health spa together. (Although, there was not nearly enough fixer-up decorating montages or, storylines around the spa for me.)
A gentle, non-taxing series based on a frothy romantic novel, set in some small town and full of ‘good/bad’ characters with a little predictable family drama and romance throw in for good measure. What’s not to love? Plus, I hear series 2 is coming.
Sweet Magnolia’s Star Rating: * * * *
WATCH: The Night Manager (2016 / 8 episodes)
WHERE: BBC / Amazon Prime Video
WHY: Classic cat and mouse storytelling
While The Night Manager is no 007 – as much as this slick, interesting and well shot series likes to think it is. We missed The Night Manager first time around – again not sure why. I remember it being heavy talked about (especially about star Tom Hiddleston) – but, we’ve only just got round to watching it. My review of it is what a ‘over hyped’ and ‘over rated’ series that could have been really good. The basic premise is Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston), is a luxury hotel night manager and former British soldier, who is recruited by Angela Burr (Olivia Coleman – who is excellent as always), the manager of an FCO task force investigating illegal arms sales, to infiltrate the inner circle of arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). Got that?
Look it was watchable, had a great cast (even better locations and houses) and, was at times thrilling. But, was thankful when it was all over. The plot holes bothered me greatly, the ‘all fits nicely in place plans’ were annoying, and frankly Hiddleston/Pine was pretty smug looking throughout – not a fan.
The Night Manager Rating: * * *
WATCH: The Night Of (2016 / limited series)
WHERE: NOW TV / Amazon Prime Video
WHY: If you like ‘who-done-its‘
I hadn’t heard of The Night Of before (or, even watched the British Series (Crimal Justice) that it is based on. So, I had no preconceptions, hadn’t read any spoilers and really could watch it for what it is. A good, solid crime drama – or a very, very long episode of Law & Order. The Night Of is the story of a naive Naz, a Pakistani-American college student living in Queens, New York who makes one bad decision that then turns into the worst night of his life. I don’t want to say to much as the first episode is fast, revealing and pretty much sets you up with what the rest of the 8-part series will entail.
It’s got gritty crime scenes, a prison storyline, court room drama, family conflict and, a touch of character study. The Night Of is a sad and eye-opening look into the American justice system and how its workings – whether considered right or wrong – can damage the course of someones future. Special mention to the actor John Turturro who was beyond excellent in his role as lawyer John Stone.
The Night Of Star Rating: * * * * *
WATCH: Hinterland / Y Gwyll (Welsh for ‘The Dusk’) (2013 – 2016 / 3 series)
WHY: Low-key crimes dramas set in sleepy towns
Hinterland is a low-budget, slow Welsh police/crime drama series that I would never have watched if we hadn’t exhausted everything else and it didn’t keep popping up on our Netflix ‘you may also like/because you watched’ list. Pleasantly surprised, watchable and realistic is how I would sum up Hinterland – or, The Welsh ‘Killing’ without the iconic sweater. Each series has 4 episodes at an hour and a half each – so we treated it like a mini-movie – we would watch one and then call it a night. Good ‘murder in the countryside’ storylines that are gripping enough to keep you watching but, not a deal breaker if you pop out of the room to make a cuppa.
Hinterland Rating: * * *